Slovakia’s LOM label launched as a netlabel in 2011, and has since expanded into the physical realm: a rare and welcome progression. In an era of disposable music, LOM understands that some things are worth keeping. Their Fields imprint is three editions young, and offers a wealth of fascinating sounds; but there’s plenty more to investigate on their Bandcamp page, and amazingly, most of the downloads are still free.
If you’re new to the label, we recommend that you start at the beginning, with the experimental compilation Zvukolom, whose maverick tendencies place it outside time. “We are mainly interested in marginal styles,” writes the label, and they live up to their words. All of the artists are from Slovakia, and if the whole country sounded like this, we’d move there. Move then to the Mrkva/Bolka Split, which sounds like insects taking over a bug zapper and partying their short lives away. Over the next nine releases, you’ll encounter everything from vacuum cleaner instruments (VooDooMan) to more insects (Amen Tma) to a modern organ/accordion score (Jolana Havelková & Lucie Vítková), on every format imaginable, from DVD to cassette with paper cutout figurines. LOM is doing everything right.
Two of the four artists covered today have earlier releases on the label. Daniel Kordík’s [Sy][ria] was recorded on location and later adapted, while Jonáš Gruska’s works include an electronic EP and a sound installation transferred to tape. But as wide as the label’s umbrella may be, the idea to launch a unified imprint is a wise one. The Fields offerings are experiments in field recording and sound art, and share a visual aesthetic: black-and-white photography, enhanced by dotted patchwork lines of different colors.
INDPORT is the first of the series, a split release by Daniel Kordík and Tobiáš Potočný that explores the territory of Portuguese India. The album “draws attention to two separate sonic territories that for over four centuries shared a single audible space.” As such, the recording drips with history while raising questions of colonialism and geographical definition. When one is aware of the background, one looks at the cover as a primitive sort of gerrymandering: lines of conquest that create their own manner of puzzle. The sound art offers a cleaner aural picture. Kordík’s stunning opener, “Bounced Off the Sea,” proceeds from the docks to the rails, from the cries of men to the calls of gulls. Religion comes into play on the second track, or at least attempts to do so: a sudden honk disrupts a worshipful song. The sacred and the profane continue to battle throughout: vendor and passer-by, foot traffic and transit. “The story of India is not just shining India, it’s also suffering India,” a reporter intones, and then … disco! Potočný’s half offers a similar blend of dialogue and natural sound, but until the alarms of “?E ?E” is quieter as a whole. Trains continue to run. A woman sings, a man whistles, a cassette is played in reverse. Can we turn back time through sound? It’s entirely possible. A long silent spot toward the end leads to the pristine sound of birds and water: the time before the time. That is, until one of them is shot.
Jonáš Gruska‘s short and surprising Vzduchotechnika is a collection of sounds captured in “publicly inaccesible ventillation system machinery”. It’s not clear how Gruska got access, but we’re glad he did. For those who live near or operate machines, a soothing surface begins to form via repetition: gently modulating drones atop light, perceived rhythms. These form the basic building blocks of dark ambient and industrial music, and here they are presented unadorned. We suspect that these tracks would work well as a sound collage, but for purposes of contrast, they are separated by small silences, with titles including “Relief Valve” and “Breathing Inlet Nozzle”. “Air Is Flowing” sounds like rain on tin, but no rain is present. “Valve Dances II” sounds like insistent birds attempting to be heard over heavy surf. The ear creates its own narrative, but these are all machines. The album forces the listener to question their own assumptions about sound and interpretation, and demonstrates the difficulty of identification without contextualization.
Russian-born Jan Ryhalsky shares Gruska’s love for obscure sounds that are not typically loved. The object of his affection is the metal structure of a (mostly) abandoned cement factory. While Kordík and Potočný’s work deals with forgotten sounds, and Gruska’s work with overlooked sounds, Ryhalsky’s work concentrates on unheard sounds: frequencies normally beyond the threshold of hearing. It’s especially interesting to contrast the amplified hum of Ryhalsky’s “The Ventilation Shaft in the Pump Station” to the brighter drone of Gruska’s “Defined Ventilation Space”; one fades from the ear, while the other leans into it. This being said, similarities can also be found in these works. Although Iron Skeletons is more of a headphone album, its resonances also yield subdued rhythms. Crank “The Old Derrick” to the maximum, and one might perceive a techno beat: the ear again attempting to translate what it cannot comprehend. What we don’t hear is often more beautiful than what we do, a point made in a different manner on INDPORT but just as effective on this release. “The Wall of an Abandoned Silo” has its own song to sing, if only we would – or could – listen. Thanks to Ryhalsky, now we can.
With three distinct installments already available, the Fields series is an excellent launch to what we hope will be a long-running series. But as mentioned above, it’s only part of the larger LOM family. The label may only be interested in “marginal styles”, but to us, these are the styles that count. (Richard Allen)
Click on the Bandcamp links for individual releases; click here for the LOM label website.